So, LSU has this live Bengal-Siberian mix Tiger on campus... Mike VI. Maybe you've heard of him. One of the cooler parts about my job is that I get to hear quite a few stories about his care, courtesy of Ginger Guttner, director of public relations for the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, who takes care of the big guy. She was cool enough to answer a couple of questions for us. You'd be surprised at just what you can learn...
So as the official "person that answers Mike the Tiger questions," what are some of the more frequently asked ones?
People are very curious about Mike's behind-the-scenes life, so most questions relate to his current weight (430 lbs.), his diet (a commercially prepared food for large felines) and his toys (boomer balls and artificial prey).
Are there any common misconceptions you'd like to address?
There are some people that believe that Mike is sedated so that we can get him to go to football games. This is absolutely not true. Dr. Baker, his veterinarian, has stated repeatedly that if we need to sedate him to get him into his trailer, we have no business bringing him into the stadium. Mike goes to football games only if he chooses to enter his trailer; if he doesn't load, he doesn't go. If he seems relaxed while in the stadium, it's because he's comfortable in that environment and not because he's been sedated.
Another misconception is that he's lonely and should have another tiger for company. Tigers are solitary creatures (there's no word for a group of tigers because in the wild, they don't live in groups). Still, Mike enjoys his visitors as evidenced by the fact that he chooses to spend most of this time at the front of the habitat closest to his visitors. He gets enrichment from his visitors and his caretakers.
A live college football mascot obviously draws a lot of attention, from a lot of people, and some of it might be a little... unorthodox. Care to talk about any of the stranger questions you have fielded?
I've had people ask me if they can go into his habitat and pet him or ask if his caretakers do that. While Mike is hand-raised, he is still a live tiger and a 430-pound apex predator. No one is with him without a barrier.
When we travel to the games with Mike in his trailer, I've had a couple of people ask if he's a "real" tiger. I assured them that he is "real." One fan from a rival SEC school told me he was cute and asked what his name was. Which is only painted on three sides of his trailer.
So I can't have my birthday party in Mike's habitat?
While you can certainly come visit Mike on your birthday, no, his habitat is not available for events.
Awwww... even if I bring him his own cake and a party hat?
What you wear and eat at the habitat is your business, but Mike only eats the food prepared by his caretakers. He'd probably just destroy the hat.
Darn. Still, getting him into the trailer and taking him through Tiger Stadium has to be a pretty cool experience?
On game days, Mike's trailer is parked next to the back of his night house. Gates attach to the back of the trailer and the night house to close the gaps between the two. The trailer door is opened and then the door of the night house. Mike usually paces a bit inside the night house, sticking his head into the trailer from time to time. If he loads into the trailer, he is driven into Tiger Stadium past thousands of adoring fans. He enters the stadium via the visitors' entrance and is parked by the visitors' locker room; the opposing team players must pass Mike to get onto the field. Before kick-off, the Tiger cheerleaders get on top of the trailer, and he is driven around the stadium. He leaves before kick-off. If it's a day game, he's let outside into his habitat; if it's a night game, he'll be fed his dinner and stay inside until the next morning.
While Mike is on the field, lots of people come see him, and not just LSU fans. The opposing team cheerleaders always come over to see him (and sometimes the opposing team players and coaches). He's also usually surrounded by media (local and national). Everybody loves seeing Mike up close!
How do players from opposing teams react when the trailer comes by their tunnel?
Last year, Washington's head coach had a tiger brought to their practice to prepare them for Mike (though that tiger was significantly smaller than Mike). Most players run by him and then do a double-take after they pass him. Some will come over for a closer look and ask questions.
Something that you've told me about before, I find really cool, is the whole mascot subculture in the SEC. Care to talk about how Mike and his caretakers get along with some of the other live mascots in the league?
There are only about 34 universities in the U.S. that have live mascots, and LSU is the only university in the U.S. with a live tiger living on campus. The University of Memphis has a tiger, but it lives off campus. It's a pretty tight community. When Mike V passed away, Uga (Georgia's bulldog) sent a condolence card, and Arkansas's Tusk sent flowers. When Uga VIII passed away, Mike sent a card to the Seiler family who owns him. When Texas A&M joined the SEC, Mike welcomed Reveille on Facebook. Mike often refers to his fellow live mascots on his Twitter and Facebook pages; we may be enemies on sports fields, but Mike is very respectful to his fellow live mascots.
Finally, talk about what it's been like operating Mike's official Twitter, @MikeTigerVI, and his Facebook page.
Operating Mike's Facebook and Twitter pages is pretty fun. It gives "Mike" a chance to answer questions and interact with his fans. I coordinate it, but I get lots of input from his fans and caretakers, which helps. If you want to know what's going on with Mike or whether or not he'll be attending a football game, you should follow him at @MikeTigerVI or at http://www.facebook.com/MikeTigerVI.
So he doesn't actually do the tweeting himself?
No, Mike's not able to tweet himself. While he does have wifi in the habitat, I don't think any computer we would give him would survive.
Special thanks to Ginger for doing this. And of course, you can always check out http://www.mikethetiger.com/ for more information on Mike VI.